Solar power has yet to reach its full potential. The highest efficiency panels only convert about 23 percent of the sun's energy into electricity, and the more common ones average 15 to 18 percent.
Once upon a time they were curiosities: You pointed them out on roofs because they were so unusual. But now solar panels are all over the place. It’s not always obvious; sometimes you have to check out a satellite photo on Google, where you see roof after roof covered in the shiny rectangles, and you say “Holy cow, look how many people have solar! The Jensons and the Millers and those retired people in the cul-de-sac with the pink lawn flamingos.” And maybe you think, what a great idea. Power from the sun, a star that every hour and a half emits more energy than the whole earth uses in a year. How clean. How resourceful. A terrific solution to our climate problems.
But you might also be afraid to join the trend. You hear that solar is expensive. Or unreliable. Or complicated. Or this, or that. Understandable—I often hesitate about new technologies as well. I only started streaming movies last year, and I still prefer paper books over e-readers. My 19-year-old niece thinks I’m somewhere between Australopithecus and Java Man.
I decided to do my own research. I Googled, read, talked to solar owners and the solar curious, and really geeked out on the topic. I discovered that a lot of people, myself included, are misinformed. Or simply didn’t know all the facts. So I decided to set the record straight, busting some myths and pointing out where facts that are true aren’t as big a deal as you might think. Ready? Here goes.
Myth #1. Solar panels are touchy and high maintenance
They’re actually low maintenance. There’s very little to do beyond the basic maintenance any home owner does. You’ll need to clean the panels a couple times per year. Spring and fall are good times to do it, perhaps as you’re clearing leaves from the gutters and drainpipes. Cleaning will ensure the panels get enough sunlight to work properly.
There is one situation where solar panels can sometimes be high maintenance, and that is if the roof needs to be replaced. The cost to remove the panels varies greatly—from around $1,500 to maybe $6,000 depending on how many panels you have, how they’re attached, if they need to be placed in storage temporarily, etc.
Sometimes the solar installer removes the panels and sometimes the roofing company can take care of it. There are even solar installers who remove panels they didn’t put up. This topic actually deserves its own separate article because of the complexity, but a quick takeaway is when getting a new roof it’s a great time to also get solar panels from a company that does both, and can warranty both and has provisions for removing panels if the roof ever needs maintenance. It’s important to ask lots of questions from any company you consider, especially regarding the cost of various possible issues that might lie ahead.
Myth #2. They only work on south-facing roofs
While solar panels do work best on south-facing roofs in the Northern Hemisphere (and north-facing roofs in the Southern Hemisphere), both east- and west-facing roofs can also gather plenty of energy if they get ample sunlight throughout the day. It all depends on the type of weather environment you’re in—the sunnier the better, obviously.
Myth #3. The leases are complicated
Well, like everything in life, they can be, especially when resale time comes around: A potential buyer will want to know who owns the panels and what the lease time is if it isn’t the homeowner.
The good news is with Dvele homes, you always own the panels. (They’re included in all of Dvele’s Self-Powered™ homes. So this complication doesn’t apply. And ownership is the way to go. So says Consumer Reports and many other publications. And what does Oprah Winfrey call her television network? OWN. There’s a reason for that—it’s her initials. But she owns it too. And you should own your panels, as well as anything else that increases an asset’s value.
Myth #4. Solar doesn’t work if the sun isn’t out
Despite what the show says, it isn’t always sunny in Philadelphia. Or anyplace else. So many installations come with a battery that stores power in reserve for when the sun doesn’t shine. The power to non-essentials may be eliminated to make sure the most important appliances in your home continue to function. But with proper “power budgeting,” a home can get one, two or even three days of power during rainy periods even if they’re completely off the grid.
You can also choose to be off the grid only partly. The start-up costs for this are smaller, because you need to spend less on battery capacity. You generate your own power, but can still tap into the grid when you need it. Win-win.
My in-laws have solar with no battery; They send the power they generate to the grid along with many other solar homeowners, contributing to the utility’s overall power supply. They then tap into it like everyone else, but the amount they contribute offsets what they use, so they pay very little. I admit I became a little envious after learning that.
Myth #5. Solar is inefficient
Solar panels have on average a 22 percent efficiency rate, which means they only convert 22 percent of the sunlight that hits them into usable energy. That sounds pretty bad—Imagine if you got that from your boss in a performance review! But the sun is so powerful that even 22 percent translates into a lot. And the best part: Solar technology gets more efficient all the time, thanks in part to research funded by the Energy Department’s Solar Energy Technologies Office, or SETO. They’re working to see the U.S. transform to a carbon-free economy by 2050.
Myth #6. You’re always replacing the battery, and those batteries are expensive
Okay, it’s true: batteries can be pricey. The good news is costs are falling all the time, thanks to lots of forces at work, such as those SETO folks mentioned above. Currently lithium-ion batteries can last up to fifteen years. That means the average 30-year homeowner will likely have to replace their battery at least once. Those li-ion batteries can cost between $7,000 and $15,000. Smaller batteries, intended for backup power in emergencies, can cost as little as $200. And, as mentioned above, you don’t have to have a battery at all to benefit from solar.
Myth #7. Prepping your home for solar power is costly
Not necessarily and not if you go with Dvele. Even Dvele homes that do not come with solar panels are solar ready, which makes installation a breeze if you do decide to “go solar.” And houses needn’t be 100 percent reliant on solar. Even a small, less expensive solar setup offers a significant savings on power bills, and can pay for itself in as little as seven years. But ultimately, the cost-effectiveness of solar depends on location, as well as government and utility programs available for solar homes.
Myth #8. Solar doesn’t work on every type of roof
Yes, that is technically true. But it works on most. Generally, roofing with a slope of 40 degrees or less is compatible. Anything steeper is, well, too steep, so if you have a Dutch Colonial Revival or Cape Cod home, solar panels probably won’t work. The good news is most roofs are not that steep. More good news: Solar panels work on all Dvele roofs; their beautiful modern aesthetic and clean lines work well with solar panels. That’s no accident.
Myth #9. You really don’t save that much money
I was really surprised here. As a thoroughly jaded consumer, I am used to hearing the term “big savings” followed by paltry amounts. I began chatting up people on solar panels (it’s a great ice-breaker at parties) and found out the folks who had it installed really are seeing large differences in their bills.
One homeowner I spoke to said she typically saw energy bills of $100-$200/month at her old (non-solar) house. She now pays either nothing or just a small amount—around $11 per month. Periodic credits for selling energy back to the grid means she sometimes even has a negative balance. I admit, the thought of selling power back to the utility companies is a delicious one.
And solar panels are durable. They can last 25 years before losing their efficiency, gradually converting less sunlight to energy until they eventually have to be replaced. Even after 25 years, however, they still operate at around 89 percent, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. So the “fade out” is gradual and gives you plenty of time to prepare.
And as of this writing, the federal tax credit for solar panels is 30 percent of total improvement expenses in the year they’re installed. This tax credit has recently been extended to run through 2032, before it drops to 26 percent for the next year and 22 percent in 2034. So you save money and the environment. In an age when we have to do everything we can to help our ailing planet, solar panels are a decision we can feel good about.